Late in the fall, I spent the afternoon in Northampton with my wife, my daughter, and my in-laws. We had a delightful lunch and spent the afternoon time touring the town, peaking into stores and generally ambling about. It was a good time, but after about an hour, I was done. Despite the fine company and beautiful weather, I simply do not enjoy touring retail establishments for any length of time. I do not like to shop, there is very little that I want, and so this kind of activity eventually becomes quite difficult for me to bear. Here’s the problem:
Walking around a quaint New England town on a perfect summer day, stopping into shops, taking in the scenery, doing a little shopping and chatting on the sidewalks is the kind of universally-accepted activity that almost everyone seems to enjoy to one degree or another. It’s the way that many people would love to spend an afternoon, as evidenced by the large numbers of people on the street, so when you find yourself in the extreme minority, despising the activity, it’s difficult to justify your dislike and genuine abhorrence for this means of spending one’s time.
If you complain, people think you're crazy.
If you ask to cut the afternoon short, you instantly become the bad guy.
If you slouch or trudge or frown or express any displeasure, people can’t help but feel like you’re acting selfish and immature.
But here's the thing:
What if I were to ask these same people to spend four hours on a basketball court with me? Or a baseball diamond? Or a poker table at a casino? What if I invited them to sit beside and spend an afternoon writing?
To refuse to spend an afternoon on the basketball court or at the poker table seems perfectly reasonable to people, since these are activities with narrowly-defined interest levels. The majority of people are not expected to enjoy a game of two-on-two on a hot, summer day or a six-hour poker session at Foxwoods. No one thinks it reasonable to be expected to sit at a table all afternoon, writing fiction.
But I feel the same way about an afternoon of shopping in Northampton as many people might feel about donning sneakers and shooting free-throws for hours on end. The same way they might feel about pounding away on a keyboard for an afternoon or evening. Yet because these activities do not enjoy the same universal appeal as shopping and walking about a quaint retail district, I am presumed to be the pain-in-the-ass.
The selfish jerk.
But it’s really not fair to ask me to spend my afternoon in a way that you enjoy, regardless of how many people also enjoy the chosen activity, without a willingness to reciprocate for me.
Don’t you think?
I sacrifice a Tuesday in Northampton if you are willing to join me on a Thursday for a game of hoop or an afternoon of composition and literary critique.
Am I wrong?